Emotional difficulties and the Impact on Academics

When discussing learning disabilities, it is important to note the impact emotional difficulties can have on academic achievement. While anxiety and depression are not a specific learning disability, they can certainly impact all aspects of learning. I often have people in my office claiming that their child must have a learning disability because they are struggling in school, or claim their child has AD/HD because of recent problems with distractibility. Often an evaluation confirms the weakness in that subject area. However, despite the weakness, there still is not a learning disability! To have a specific learning disability, a student has to have a deficit in a processing area that directly impacts the academic achievement area. For instance, people with dyslexia typically have weakness in their phonological processing, while individuals with a mathematics disorder often have weakness in their nonverbal reasoning abilities and/or visual spatial skills. This is why a full comprehensive evaluation is imperative. During an evaluation process, it is imperative that emotional functioning is assessed. Depression and anxiety can impact several academic areas and are only fully understood after a comprehensive evaluation. Read below to learn about how emotional difficulties can impact learning.

1.     Depression and anxiety have both been shown to impact a student’s processing speed. Processing speed refers to a person’s ability to quickly complete simple cognitive tasks. Weak processing skills can hinder a person’s ability to complete class assignments and tests during time constraints.

2.     Depression and anxiety can also mimic AD/HD and cause distractibility. Individuals who experience depression and anxiety can also meet symptomatology for AD/HD without actually having the disorder.

3.     Depression can impact a student’s motivation to complete daily tasks, such as homework or class assignments.

4.     Research indicates that depression and anxiety can impact working memory. Working memory is a person’s ability to hold and manipulate information for short periods of time.

5.     Emotional difficulties can cause someone to feel overwhelmed by simple tasks. Subsequently, learning new information can seem daunting and overwhelming.

Overall, it is clear that emotional difficulties have a big impact on a person’s school achievement. Depression and anxiety can look very similar to AD/HD and learning disabilities and without a comprehensive evaluation it is impossible to determine the true origin of a student’s difficulties. Subsequently, it is imperative that cognitive ability and emotional functioning are assessed when performing any type of evaluation to truly determine the cause of a person’s difficulties. 

Written by: Amy Rollo, M.A., LSSP, LPC-S

Amy Rollo is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and owner of Heights Family Counseling. Amy has been practicing for fifteen years. She has doctoral level training in the areas of child and adolescent counseling, marriage and family therapy, and adult counseling. Amy Rollo provides counseling and evaluation services in the Houston Heights and surrounding areas. Amy’s goal in counseling is to journey with her clients in order to foster positive changes and growth in their lives. Read more about Amy's counseling style by visiting www.heightsfamilycounseling.com